Which is Better: Finding Fault or Providing Help?

If you have never heard Arthur Brooks speak, you’re missing out. He’s the president of the American Enterprise Institute and was one of the featured speakers at the State Policy Network annual meeting that was held in Grand Rapids in early October. Over the past 40 years, he said, the global incidence of extreme poverty has declined by 80 percent, due in large measure to property rights, entrepreneurship, and trade. (Isn’t that something to celebrate, by the way?) In other words, freedom benefits people who need help the most.

It’s little wonder, then, that Brooks tells freedom-supporters that we should fight for people rather than simply against things.

It’s all too easy for us (sometimes it’s second nature) to blame failed government policies when things don’t turn out right or when government programs don’t produce the results intended. This was my temptation when I read about Flint’s water crisis. The city switched its source from the Detroit water system to the Flint River. People complained that the water looked funny and made them sick. Eventually, the city switched back to Detroit water, costing taxpayers millions.

It got even more tempting after reading a letter to the editor of a newspaper, titled “Flint water crisis a disgrace.” It was about an account of two Flint teachers who asked people at an MEA meeting for money to buy bottled water for Flint residents. While the letter-writer said $680 was raised, he went to say, “Having to pass the hat for clean drinking water for residents of our very own state? Incredible. Unacceptable, too.”

He was fighting for the people of Flint, which should be applauded. The teachers who organized this collection and those who gave to it are fighting for people too. But rather than commending these voluntary acts, the letter-writer criticized them altogether, blaming others (including, curiously, the Mackinac Center) for the situation in Flint. The voluntary kindness of others, he said, is not the answer.

His assertion is incorrect. People did not have to “pass the hat.” They did not have to give voluntarily. But they chose to, and that should be praised.

It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to find waste in government at all levels. But that’s what we normally do when there’s a problem. Yes, we need to point out where the problems are and offer better arguments as to why freedom-based solutions are better than centrally planned solutions that are backed by government force. It’s not enough, though, if we wish to be for people.

Those looking for a government solution to Flint’s water problems blamed government officials’ desire to save money as the problem. Those looking for a freedom-based solution blamed the government for making a poor decision and mismanagement.

But what about all of the people involved?

We have those without clean water who need solutions. We need to be for them. All of us. We have those who stepped up voluntarily to raise money to provide clean water for those who don’t have it. We need to be for them. All of us.

To those who raised money and provided clean water for those who don’t have it: Bravo! You have my respect. You are an example of what civil society is all about: Creating nongovernmental, voluntary solutions that enrich the lives of others.

So in part, I agree, Flint’s water crisis is a disgrace. But the kind acts of those who cared enough to respond outside of government are nothing to look down on.